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A man spent a year in jail on a murder charge that hinged on disputed AI evidence. Now the case has been dropped • The Register

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In brief The case against a man accused of murder has been thrown out by a judge after prosecutors withdrew disputed evidence of an AI-identified gunshot sound.

Michael Williams, 65, who denied any wrongdoing, sat in jail for 11 months awaiting trial for allegedly killing Safarian Herring, 25.

It’s said that in May last year, Williams was driving through Chicago one night hoping to buy some cigarettes. Herring waved him down for a ride, and Williams, recognizing the younger man from the neighborhood, let him into his car. Soon after another vehicle pulled up alongside, and someone in a passenger seat took out a gun and shot Herring in the head, Williams told police. Herring’s mother said her son, an aspiring chef, had been shot at two weeks earlier at a bus stop.

Herring, who was taken to hospital by Williams, died from the gunshot wound, and Williams ended up being charged with his murder. A key piece of evidence against him came from ShotSpotter, a company that operates microphones spread across US cities including Chicago that, with the aid of machine-learning algorithms, detect and identify gunshot sounds to immediately alert the cops.

Prosecutors said ShotSpotter picked up a gunshot sound where Williams was seen on surveillance camera footage in his car, putting it all forward as proof that Williams shot Herring right there and then. Police did not cite a motive, had no eyewitnesses, and did not find the gun used in the attack.

Crucially, Williams’ lawyers – public defenders Lisa Boughton and Brendan Max – said records showed that ShotSpotter actually initially picked up what sounded like a firework a mile away, and this was later reclassified by ShotSpotter staff to be a gunshot at the intersection where and when Williams was seen on camera. ShotSpotter strongly insisted it had not improperly altered any data to favor the police’s case, and said that regardless of the initial real-time alert, its evidence of the gunshot was the result of follow-up forensic analysis, which was submitted to the courts.

After Williams’ lawyers asked the judge in the case to carry out an inquiry, the prosecution last month withdrew the ShotSpotter report, and asked for the case to the dismissed on the basis of insufficient evidence, which the judge agreed to. Williams is now a free man again.

“I kept trying to figure out, how can they get away with using the technology like that against me,” Williams told the Associated Press for an in-depth investigation into the case published this week. “That’s not fair.”

The internet used our AI to make NSFW images!

Startup Kapwing, which built a web application that uses computer-vision algorithms to generate pictures for people, is disappointed netizens used the code to produce NSFW material.

The software employs a combination of VQGAN and CLIP – made by researchers at the University of Heidelberg and OpenAI, respectively – to turn text prompts into images. This approach was popularised by artist Katherine Crowson in a Google Collab notebook; there’s a Twitter account dedicated to showing off this type of computer art.

Kapwing had hoped its implementation of VQGAN and CLIP on the web would be used to make art from users’ requests; instead, we’re told, it was used to make filth.

“Since I work at Kapwing, an online video editor, making an AI art and video generator seemed like a project that would be right up our alley,” Eric Lu, co-founder and CTO at Kapwing said.

“The problem? When we made it possible for anyone to generate art with artificial intelligence, barely anyone used it to make actual art. Instead, our AI model was forced to make videos for random inputs, trolling queries, and NSFW intents.”

Submitted prompts ranged from “naked woman” to the downright bizarre “thong bikini covered in chocolate” or “gay unicorn at a funeral.” The funny thing is, the images made by the AI aren’t even that realistic nor sexually explicit. Below is an example output for “naked woman.”

vqgan_clip

Click to enlarge

“Is is that the internet just craves NSFW content so much that they will type it anywhere? Or do people have a propensity to try to abuse AI systems?” Lu continued. “Either way, the content outputted must have [been] disappointing to these users, as most of the representations outputted by our models were abstract.”

Intel ‘winds down’ RealSense biz

Intel is shuttering its RealSense computer-vision product wing. The business unit’s chips, cameras, LiDAR, hardware modules, and software were aimed at things like digital signage, 3D scanning, robotics, and facial-authentication systems.

Now the plug’s been pulled, and RealSense boss Sagi Ben Moshe is departing Intel after a decade at the semiconductor goliath.

“We are winding down our RealSense business and transitioning our computer vision talent, technology and products to focus on advancing innovative technologies that better support our core businesses and IDM 2.0 strategy,” an Intel spokesperson told CRN.

All RealSense products will be discontinued, though it appears its stereo cameras for depth perception will stay, to some degree, according to IEEE’s Spectrum. ®



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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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Australians’ 2021 Google searches: Covid comes out on top with sport our favoured non-pandemic distraction | Google

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The Covid-19 pandemic once again dominated internet searches in Australia this year, as lockdowns gripped the two largest states, and people sought vaccines.

Google has compiled data on the most popular search terms from the previous 12 months, which showed Covid’s dominance in Australia was challenged by people looking for an escape in sports. The NBA, AFL, cricket, NRL, football, Wimbledon and the Olympics took out the top spots for most searched sport in Australia in 2021.

The Covid situation in New South Wales dominated news-related searches, with the Delta outbreak forcing the state into the longest continuous lockdown in 2021. Victorians, having endured the most number of days in lockdown since the pandemic started, did not appear to seek out information about the Covid situation in their own state nearly as much, with “coronavirus Victoria” coming in fifth in news-related searches, even behind Queensland at number three.

For the second year in a row, people Googled “how to make face masks” more than any other DIY-related search. As residents in NSW, Victoria and the ACT endured extended lockdowns, at-home activities like making your own candles, playdough, paper planes, and chatterboxes soared.

As Australia’s vaccination “strollout” gathered pace in the second half of 2021, people searched how to get their vaccination certificates, how to book their Covid vaccination, how to link their Medicare to myGov, and how to enter the Million Dollar Vax campaign.

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The shocking disappearance of West Australian four-year-old Cleo Smith and the dramatic rescue over two weeks later was the second biggest news event searched on Google by Australians. The ongoing search for missing toddler William Tyrrell came in sixth.

The former federal attorney general Christian Porter’s name dominated Google search trends in the days leading up to a press conference where he outed himself as the unnamed minister in an ABC report about an alleged historical rape. He vehemently denies the allegations. In his now-settled defamation suit against the ABC, lawyers for Porter raised that after the report searches of his name “increased significantly and much more so than any other senior male cabinet members”.

The former minister, who announced last week he would not recontest his WA seat of Pearce at the 2022 federal election, appears eighth in the 2021 list of news-related searches.

Porter was the fourth most-searched person overall in Australia, behind Cleo Smith, Ash Barty, and William Tyrell. The new NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, came in sixth.

Bringing up the rear of news searches was the moment that shook Melbourne – literally – the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit Victoria in September.

Interest in all things cryptocurrency was also reflected in Australian searches with cryptocurrency exchange Coinspot the ninth most searched term, and people searched how to buy Dogecoin.

Prince Philip was the most searched among those who died in 2021, followed by US woman Gabby Petito, and Australian entertainment giant Bert Newton.

Thanks to Jaden Smith and Britney Spears, people were searching for the meaning of the word “emancipated” more than any other word in 2021, followed by “insurrection” after the events at the US Capitol on 6 January, then it was “gaslighting”, Naidoc and NFT.

Despite emerging late in the year, Omicron came in sixth as people looked up the meaning of the latest Covid-19 variant of concern.

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